During the cold winter months in much of the country, people often
develop the winter blues due to cabin fever. It is also common for pets
to get cabin fever, and they may develop behavior problems as a result
of boredom or frustration. These undesired behaviors can become
permanent habits if they are not interrupted quickly. If your pet
suddenly develops an undesirable behavior such as housesoiling,
destructive chewing, or restlessness, it is important to visit your
veterinarian to rule out any medical issues.
Once any potential
health issues are ruled out or treated, there are some simple things you
can do to provide mental stimulation and indoor activities as a
substitute for outdoor exercise. Follow the 5 W’s of Why, Who, What,
When and Where to develop your pet’s personalized cabin fever relief
Why? It’s important to provide mental
stimulation as an alternative to physical exercise on lazy or cold days
so that your pet does not become anxious, frustrated, or bored. Short
indoor training sessions or play breaks will work to break the boredom
and help form good bonds between family members and the pet.
If the intention is to stimulate your pet’s interest and focus, it is
good to vary the people who are playing with or training the pet.
Everyone in the family should participate. Toddlers can toss toys for
your dog or cat to chase or retrieve, while older children can teach new
tricks to the pet. Anyone, including visitors, can participate in a
game of catch or hide-and-seek around the house, which can encourage the
pet’s natural inquisitive nature and be much more stimulating than you
might expect. Another stimulating activity that you can share with
friends is a “towel trade” – rub your pet with a fresh towel, then trade
this ‘scented towel’ with a friend who has done the same with their
pet. Allow your pet to investigate the new smells that are on the towel.
Alternate play toys and differ the activity in each session or each
week. Polish up old tricks or teach new tricks, such as teaching your
pet to differentiate between left and right paw shakes, ‘high fives’
versus shakes, etc. You are only limited by your imagination and your
pet’s cooperation. Having fun is the key. Contrary to popular belief,
most cats can also be trained to do simple tricks such as sit, roll
over, give a paw, etc. An extremely useful trick to teach any pet is
that whenever a doorknob is touched, the pet must sit still before the
door is opened – this will prevent dangerous bolting through doorways.
For best results, include indoor professional training courses to
provide additional stimulation and allow your pet to socialize with
When? It can be hard to find time for
a long training session, particularly if you are also faced with the
winter blues. However, it can be easy to break playtimes up into very
short intervals – such as during commercial breaks, while waiting for
the kettle to boil or the toaster to pop, or before feeding your pet.
Multiple short games are usually more stimulating than one long one.
Although this can seem challenging at first, you should realize that
there is no need for a large space for effective training. With your
dog, you can snap on the leash and work with controlled walking from
room to room, or up and down stairs. With your cat, you can encourage
exercise by tossing her favorite toy up and down the stairs to provide
For pet families that have indoor cats, you can
incorporate these suggestions year-round to enrich your cat’s life and
avoid undesirable behavior problems. Check our website for more detailed
handouts, or call the clinic for specific advice that is tailored to
These news items, written by Lifelearn Inc., are licensed to this
practice for the personal use of our clients. Any copying, printing or
further distribution is prohibited without the express written
permission of Lifelearn Inc. Please note that the news information
presented here is NOT a substitute for a proper consultation and/or
clinical examination of your pet by our clinic veterinarian.